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^ MAY X7 




NEGRO EVOLUTION. 






By WILLIAM PICKENS. 




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The following address, prepared wholly by William 
Pickens, a student of Talladega College, Talladega, 
Alabama, the American Missionary Association College 
for the Negro in Alabama, is published in response to 
request made by many who heard Mr. Pickens deliver a 
part of it, and desired to see the whole in print. 

Mr. Pickens is one of five students of the college 
now on a tour through the North in the interest of tha 
college, under the direction of the undersigned, one of 
the Faculty. 

July i6, 1900. J. M. P. METCALF, 

Elyria, Ohio. 
Talladega, Alabama, 



NEGRO EVOLUTION. 

By William Pickens. 



As the Negro has been the toy of the sportive genealogist 
and a riddle for the ethnologist, the very phrase " Negro 
Evolution" brings before our mental eyes a whole phantas- 
magoria of allusions and illusions. Airy philosophy has 
made his black skin the brand of Cain or the mark of accursed 
Ham. One facetious historian of the nineteenth century 
turned, looked through the infinite vista of time away back to 
the Creation and saw the Almighty making four individuals : 
a white pair — Adam and Eve, and a black pair — Adamah 
•and Hevah And the whites were endued with the spirit of 
Ood, while the blacks were left as soulless as the lion! How 
superior is this man's retrospective vision to that of the writer 
of Genesis ! 

Other abusers of ethnology have signed their names to it 
that the Negro is a highly evolved monkey or a half-brother 
to the gorilla. 

Those of the less intoxicated type ascribe his color and 
liis features to the influence of his environments. This last 
theory seems all the more plausible from the changes that 
climate and civilization work in him. It also explains essen- 
tial differences among the autochthonic races of various 
latitudes in Africa. All other theories must be attributed to 
that poetic tendency and creative imagination of the human 
mind, slightly colored, of course, by foolish pride. 

We acknowledge that we know not our origin; but we 
are endeavoring to discover and to shape our destiny. As 
the Jew said, ** One thing I know, that whereas I was blind, 
now T see," so say we: **One thing we know, that whereas 
God so willed, some creative power has given us being. 



Whether we began with creation we cannot say ; but we can 
say that when history was born of chaos, among its first com- 
panions was a black man. And we wish no remoter evidence 
than history.*' 

The records of real human life are the most charming of 
all books. The story of human plans and actions, of human 
plots and counterplots, and of results always determined by 
the overruling providence of God, is the most acceptable of 
stories. The world's history consists of many great conflicts 
of opinion, many of which seem to have been won by that 
element whose highest ideals are plainly contrary to our 
most instinctive feelings of justice and humanity. But the 
general trend and the certain end of all great issues have 
proclaimed with an indisputable voice : There is an unchange- 
able and universal God. 

Ever since the decay of Egyptian civilization, and only 
the Infinite Mind knows how long before, one of the most 
fruitful quarters of God's sunlit earth has been peopled by a 
race void of the right conception of a common Father or an 
eternal life. The only line of demarkation between the man 
and the brute is, that the soul of the former, in its ef ^rts to 
express gratitude for its existence, makes its savage sacrifices 
to the hand-made gods of the wilderness. This soul is the 
priceless gift of his Creator, and is a hidden metal, having 
attractions for magnetic Christian influences. It is this 
beloved jewel that has lured the most devout workers of 
God's people from home comforts arid friends to brave the 
ter.rors of the sea, the sickness of the swamp and often the 
hostility of the very ones whom their hearts long to save. 

It was from such a condition of life that Providence 
caused many thousands to be transported to a land where, in 
immediate contiguity with civilization, three centuries would 
develop more Christian character than a millennium of mission- 
fity work could effect in their native jungles. The mysterious 
hand of God is not always discernible to man. The allure- 
ment of the Dutch slave-trader who landed at Jamestown was 
so many pieces of gold ; the motive of the purchasing farmer 
was the best possible crops with the l^ast possible exertion ]of 



his own physical powers; the palliation of the church was 
due to a derogatory desire for transient peace and prosperity: 
but above and superior to all this human will stood the unseen 
plan of God — the extension of his kingdom to one' of the 
lowliest of his beloved races of men. When we remember 
that this slave's mind was allowed to become so broad and no 
broader; that he was permitted to know so much of God's 
word and no more; to approach, as it were, so near to God 
and no nearer, our pessimistic minds are apt to think that the 
design of man for a time surmounted the divine plan. But 
when we consider the preponderance of dross that needed to 
be burned from this metal, the ages of bad influences that 
needed to be purged out of this savage blood, we are com- 
pelled to bow our heads in humble recognition of the great 
wisdom of God. 

The tale of those suffering years has often been told. It 
has, with mitigations, been stereotyped in *' Uncle Tom's 
Cabin." It still lives on thousands of dusky lips in the 
South, and is still being whispered into eager-listening ears. 
My own grandmother, whose gray head and incoherent utter- 
ances gave me my first ideas of history, has often quickened 
the beat of my boyish heart with such tales of woe as I have 
failed to discover in the history of French Terror or Catholic 
Inquisition. But she always concluded, as the whole race 
and all its well-wishers must conclude, that it all assisted in 
the execution of the faultless plan of God. , 

We are not always delighted when God manifests his will; 
neither do we always pray from our hearts that his will, 
regardless of ours, be done. When the Federal arms were 
knocking at the gates of a Southern fortification, a certain 
mistress commanded all her slaves to pray. 

One day she inquired, *' What do you pray for, Maria? " 

** I prays. Missis, dat de Lord's will may be done." 

"' But you mustn't pray that way! You must pray that 
our enemies be driven back." 

But God's will 7Husl be done, as the results of that great 
struggle have shown and are showing. 

After the liberty-loving manhood of the North had, with 



great sacrifice, welded a nation and emancipated a race, then 
and there was born into the world the greatest question that 
ever attracted the attention of American statesmanships 
philanthropy and Christianity. As the old colored preacher 
explained to his congregation, this was " a providential acci- 
dent;" it liberated four millions from the milder curse of 
chattel servitude, but left the emancipation from the greater 
bondage of mind and soul to be wrought as all great things 
are wrought, gradually and surely. 

An old Negro " aunty " said: '' Befor' de war de Nigger 
didn't have nuthin' but hisself, and he wusn't his own Nigger; 
an' atter de war he was his own Nigger, but dat's all he did 
own." Yes, he was his '* own Nigger." But let us view 
his pitiful surroundings. He was homeless, so ignorant that 
the horizon was the boundary of his world; and he knew not 
the cardinal points of that. The immoral, unreligious bit of 
religion that he had was only fit to sink him. That instinctive 
respect for freedom which God writes on every man's heart 
had been almost, if not wholly, obliterated by ten generations 
of slavery. His religion consisted of emotions, and came as 
violently and vanished with as much volatility as do his feel- 
ings. He called upon God like Jezebel's prophets called upon 
Baal, — with all his might and main. He worshipped Him 
like the Romans worshipped Bacchus, — with demoniacal 
contortions and shoutings. And to aggravate all this social 
and religious degradation, he was the defenseless object of 
malicious eyes; he was to run the gauntlet between his own 
weaknesses and the ebbing fury of the recent war, and was the 
destined scapegoat of every national crime. There he stands, 
a venture for pedagogical skill, a test for the strength of the 
Christian religion. 

But nothing surprises God, who sees into all time. And 
by another '' providential accident " the American Missionary 
Association had been formed at the North, a society destined 
to perfect what the national arms initiated. The millions 
are acquainted with the history of its formation and early 
work. It was the union of a number of anti-slavery and mis- 
sionary societies, composed of men who had sufficient faith 



in the first chapters of Genesis to believe in the fatherhood of 
God and brotherhood of man — men who evidently desired to 
do as Jesus would. 

The Christians of the North can point to no field and to 
no era with more just pride than to their work among these 
freedmen in the very wake of a cruel war. As the civil arms 
marched ahead, destroying life and property, the Church 
Militant, armed with the Word of God and shielded by an 
unconquerable faith, stepped into the desolation to lift the 
lowly, renew life and prosperity and offer salvation. 

The Northern girl-teacher went forth upon the plain 
where her brother had fallen, and laid the foundation of an 
institution of learning — an indestructible monument to his 
heroic death. She braved an ostracism oppressive to the 
human heart. She was the despised friend of publicans and 
sinners, — nay worse, of a hated race of ex-slaves. Her 
warfare required more real courage than that of the can- 
noneer and rifleman. For hers was not the inspiration of 
the noise and shifting scene of the battle-field, but the medi- 
tative coolness of a tender Christian heart. But every wave 
of malice vanished, vaporized by her altruistic ardor. And 
her tear of sorrow for wicked opposition became a tear of joy, 
when she beheld the many souls being taught the right service 
of her Godj the transforming mass of humanity for which she 
was the leaven ; when she saw the many mothers with their 
little ones bowed around ^their knees, teaching them to lisp a 
prayer for their idolized teacher unto their teacher's God; 
and lastly, when she remembered her thousand friends at 
home, waiting to welcome her with cheer and praise. 

From such conditions arose such an institution as Talla- 
dega College, situate among the hills of Alabama near the 
edge of the Black Belt, which, however, is named rather from 
the character of the soil than from the color of the inhab- 
itants. In 1867 a building previously erected as a white 
school was purchased ,by the American Missionary Associa- 
tion. One of the slaves who helped lay the foundation has 
had his hopeless toil requited by having one daughter to 
graduate and another pursuing the college course. 



8 

Through the generosity of the North and the indefatiga- 
bility of its instructors the institution has grown materially 
and influentially. And on the hallowed ground where 
Andrew Jackson's men built their camp-fires while savages 
lurked in surrounding thickets, now stand fifteen buildings 
in a healthful atmosphere, and solemn mountains rise on 
every side like providential sentinels. It is a model and 
light to black and white ; for prior to the establishment of 
American Missionary Association schools in the South the 
poor of the whites spurned public schools as '' pauper 
schools/* They ranked them in the same category with the 
poorhouse, while the great slaveholders sent their sons and 
daughters to private institutions. But such centers as Talla- 
dega have exerted such educational influence that public 
schools are now looked upon with pride. 

Talladega is the place wherein the colored ministers 
gather to fit themselves for their calling. No one could 
rightly estimate the necessity for this theological department 
or the good that it is doing, unless he should have the oppor- 
tunity to visit an old-time colored church and enjoy the 
vociferous volumes of jargon, called by the inapplicable name 
of preaching. Then let him walk into a church pastored by 
one of Talladega's theological students, and he will have new 
hopes for the highest education of the Negro. It has been 
well said in support of higher education that the black man 
cannot succeed with less education than the white man unless 
he be superior to him. (And *' black superiority " would be 
a very unique and contestable claim indeed!) 

No greater law was ever promulgated in the history of 
the world than the Golden Rule. It is social and political 
justice stated in a sentence. It is positive, not negative; 
active, not passive. It upholds aggression, not neutrality. 
But it is impossible, for us to do to others what we would have 
them do to us unless we consider their condition ; unless we 
in our imagination exchange positions with them. Tliis very 
few people take time to do. 

Let us ^condescend to enter the person of a Southern 
Negro and grow with him from his birth. 



He is ushered into the world as sinless as any human 
being. Soon he becomes childishly cognizant of the great 
world about him. He catches a few words and begins to 
discern the difference between two races. No seed of misan- 
thropy has yet been sown in his bosom, and he is a perfect 
child of Nature. Ere long he learns to read. He peruses 
the daily news only to find repeated manifestation of preju- 
dice and crime. What an awful education ! How dangerous 
this little knowledge, unless further guided under the domina- 
tion of Christian influences ! — Now is his critical period. 
Now he needs sympathy. His energies are radiating from 
his ey^s and emanating from the very tips of his fingers. But 
he is docile and pliant. He stands like the little fledgling 
bird on the rim of its nest, ignorant of the hawk's ravin and 
the fowler's eye, and peers longingly into the great world 
about him. He is ambitious to learn, but he must meet one 
hundred who will declare his incapacity before he finds one 
who will offer a tolerable opportunity. Is there not hope 
where the majority from such circumstances will work three 
months for books and clothes and the remaining nine for 
board while attending school? 

There are thousands today, struggling in the midst of 
circumstances altogether unimaginable to one not thoroughly 
acquainted with this portion of the South's population. 

It is just here that the incalculable service of the Ameri- 
can Missionary Association is seen in reducing this percent, of 
national ignorance, and in transforming soil that is otherwise 
only fruitful of crime. No society was ever more patriotic in 
its principles and endeavors. There is no limit to the char- 
acteristic gratitude of these black beneficiaries; and among 
them the word Northland is synonymous with freedom and 
justice, and Yankee means philanthropy and law. The many 
** Weary Willies " that journey through the Southland (and 
they always go afoot in spite of both '' jim-crow " and palace 
cars) find it convenient to take advantage of the Negro's grate- 
fulness to the North by introducing themselves as " Yanlcees " 
; whenever they appeal to the hospitality of his kitchen. I 
never heard it fail. And it is some sort of compliment to 



Northern integrity to assert that all the white tramps I ever 
saw in my life were, by confession, Yankees. Of course, 
some of these impostor-Yankees have never been North of 
the Missouri Compromise Line. 

There is a large element, principally Southern, that 
favors the limiting of the Negro's education to manual train- 
ing. No assigned reason is satisfactory. The least note- 
worthy position is held by those who trumpet his intellectual 
incapacity. But to these the American Missionary Associa- 
tion schools of the South are offering that conclusive argument 
which Philip presented to Nathaniel, — *' Come and see.** 
Others claim that it is the surest way for him to rise in the 
world; but every page of history and every moment of 
unbiased thought argue against the likelihood of attaining any 
material eminence, unattended by intellectual development. 
Moreover, it is limiting that which God created limitless — 
the human mind. It is bounding that which God intends to 
be boundless — the evolutions of that mind. It is a thought- 
less attempt of man to defer the coming of the kingdom of 
God by saying how near a race shall approach to the requisite 
intellectual and moral completeness. There are others — 
happily a few — who claim to know by a strange omniscience 
of their own invention that God created the black man merely 
for toil and sweat. But to make this assertion tenable some 
long-cherished teachings of the Bible must first be obliter- 
ated. Amos must be branded a deceiver when he reports 
God as saying, *' Are ye not as children of the Ethiopians 
unto me, O children of Israel?" And with all respect for 
the promoters of this infant republic, I say that some of their 
most highly applauded utterances must be relegated to poetry' 
and utopianism; that *' all men are born free and equal" 
becomes a national lie. Not all who claim that *he Almighty 
condescended to create an inferior and degenerate race that 
should infect and deteriorate the world, — not all such are 
willing to give you the key to their position by acknowledg- 
ing, like the Texan Bland, that they are the extreme haters 
of the black race. One virtue for Bland ! — frankness. There 
are others who make the groundless assertion that to educate 



IT 



the black man is to create peril for the white man. That is 
the same as to say that to tame a tiger or to train a horse is to 
make the one more ravenous and the other m.ore unruly. Edu~ 
cation beautifies one man's character and degrades that of 
another. That is the same as to say that the combination of 
two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen here forms a 
molecule of pure water; but the combination of the same 
elements in the same proportion there will create a molecule 
of pure salt. But as such a statement is in full defiance of 
natural forces, so the assertion that education in the black 
man's mind has opposite tendencies to that in any man's mind, 
is in full defiance of intellectual and spiritual forces. 

As God does nothing without purpose, he has not brought 
forth a race in vain. This is the kindly decision of those who- 
have spent their lives in the South, teaching the sable Topsies 
that were growing up side by side with the cotton and corn. 
No artistic brush has given to the world a more lifelike 
picture than Mrs. H. B. Stowe's pen portraiture of that little 
New Orleans slave urchin ToDsy. We see the tatterdemal- 
ion, rolling its large eyes black at the center and bordered 
by white adamant. The bared teeth glisten like calcareous 
stalactites and stalagmites in the Wyandotte Cave. The 
body is half bedecked by a time-worn, weather-beaten bundle 
of rags. The feet, which look like a new genus of crusta- 
ceans, have never been insulted by such a thing as a shoe. 
The little horn-like kinks stand selfishly one by one, and no 
three in the same direct line. The protruding nails, unpared, 
give it the likeness of a carnivorous creature. Add to this an 
elfish, satyric countenance and you have a real wingless 
harpy, — a form that transcends Vergil's Furies guarding the 
gates of Hades. The wonderful imagination of the ancients 
failed to surmise such a shape for mythology. 

This is a sample (not an average, however) of what the- 
home missionary has had to deal with, not with angels. Mrs. 
Harriet Beecher Stowe, being the desirable woman that she 
was and having the infinite faith in both God and man that 
sh€i had, narrates her fictitious Topsy as being educated out 
of depravity, reared a great missionary and sent like an 



12 

ethereal comet, enlightening her dark ancestral Africa. But 
now the story needs not be told m fiction; for today many 
thousand Topsies in the South are being educated and 
elevated by the irresistible power of Christianity and are 
^oing forth to reach and preach to hearts to others inacces- 
sible. 

Thus while the politicians are almost mad in their 
imperious demand for an eruptive change, the real Christian 
people of the land are working out a change which, though 
not volcanic, will be lasting. That island which is built by 
the corals is just as durable as that one which is formed by 
volcanic action ; and the creating of the first is not attended 
by a great tremor and destruction of life. The excavating of 
the Suez Canal required more time and cost man more toil 
than the belching forth of the billions of tons of lava from 
the hoarse throat of Vesuvius; but the removal of the dirt 
from the Suez did not cost the world a Pompeii. 

When we accept the arguments of natural phenomena we 
accept the teachings of God; we are getting sermons from 
stones and books from the running brooks. 

Let us turn again to Talladega College as an example of 
the onward march, not of the Negro, but of the South. 

One who has not had the misfortune to witness what we 
Southern people term a lynching is somewhat unprepared 
to appreciate the full value of one influence exerted by this 
institution upon its vicinity. A lynching is a nondescript 
exhibition of outraged and enraged civilization. It happens 
when justice flees to brutish beasts and men lose their reason; 
when malignity pervades the air, and permeates the soil, and 
acts as an extinguisher for the good and a combustible for 
the bad; when man, seized by a frenzy, see-ns to be possessed 
of seventy times seven demons, and a cry of agony has the 
same effect upon his ear that a sweet strain of music has upon 
the ordinary ear; when angels weep and devils rejoice, God 
is forgotten and human blood is cheaper than stagnant water. 
Such a monster is a lynching! Such a thing have the waves 
of civilization that flow from Talladega College succeeded in 
washing completely out of a large arena. 



13 

A few months ago a white and a black man were both 
controlled by the demon of strong drink. The result was a 
veriest murder, the white man's head being almost severed 
and ghastly incisions made in his side. The criminal, 
together with several suspects, was arrested and incarcerated. 
And the remainder of the program in most other places would 
have been the mustering of a good army of from one to three 
thousand and the promiscuous shooting of the whole number, 
guilty and guiltless. Not so in Talladega, but the treasurer 
of our institution was made foreman of a jury, fair trial' 
secured, the criminal condemned to die and his innocent 
fellow-prisoners released — law defended. 

We will rightly value that fact by becoming for a mo- 
ment one of those innocent ones, locked up with a criminal 
around whose neck the lyncher's noose is, as a matter of 
course, to be thrown. And believed to be an accomplice! 
That is no mirthful predicament for one acquainted with the 
impetuosity of Southern blood. Never were the people more 
convinced of the shame of mob-violence and the efficacy of 
inviolate law than when the~criminal was condemned and his 
innocent fellow-prisoners, whom the fury of an irrational mob 
would have hurled into eternity, were given their rightful 
liberty. Nay more, the white minister whom our Y. M. C 
A. invited to address us on the Sunday following the execu- 
tion took the last words of the criminal for a text. Is that 
not turning evil to good account? What a contrast with the 
action of the Georgia mob, — defying law and discarding 
justice, — burning their victim with the inspiration of Nero, — 
extracting his bones and breaking his fingers for trophies, — 
and then dancing to the music of his groans with such a 
fiendish glee as the Apache Indian was never guilty of. Look 
on that picture, then on this. Which pleases God and betters 
mankind? 

We are not dull in our appreciation of this and other 
institutions established and supported by Northern philan- 
thropy. Gratitude is not the word. If permitted by gram- 
mar and rhetoric we would coin a word with one hundred 
times the meaning of the word gratitude, ^One disposed to 



14 

doubt our thanks I would admonish to travel incognito 
through the South ; or to accept the unspoken testimony of 
those who have labored several decades among us, con- 
tinuously, contentedly. I do not mean that Christianity has 
relegated its service to be bought for thanks. But there is an 
element in human nature that is only moved by gratitude. 
It obeys this as steel obeys magnetism, as matter obeys 
gravitation. If someone inquire after our gratefulness, tell 
him that long as a Negro girl's tongue rattles in her head ; 
long as a black boy's heart pants in his breast and sends his 
dark red blood coursing through his veins ; long as his soul may 
chant the slave dirge and free paean of his ancestors ; while 
the stars and stripes mean life to him ; long as his retentive 
memory has a place for sweet reminiscence and means of 
communication; so /on£- shall kindnesses to him be remem- 
bered — so long shall his gratitude be unspared. 




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